Reflections on a New Course: “Learning Across Cultures”

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18 December 2017

As I sit at the end of a semester-long experience teaching a course that I had begun designing about four years ago, I am feeling simultaneously gratified, grateful, regretful, elated, pensive, self-doubting, and deeply fatigued.

What I am most grateful for is the way in which the course seems to have been highly meaningful and inspiring for many students. It was successful, on the face of it, and students have clearly articulated ways in which it has had an impact on their thinking, on their practices, on their fundamental patterns of cognition and engagement at my university. The course matters and it went quite well in many ways. So I’m feeling gratified.

My regret arises from my own failings and the missed opportunities that I see clearly. Had I been better organized, more disciplined and had I done my work more promptly, the experience would have been even better for the students and for me.

I’m elated that it is over, because the course has demanded a lot of energy and thought, and it’s a relief to think that in the very near future I can let it go, at least for a time. I’m elated that I’m going into my Christmas break with real teaching and learning success in the course. I’m elated that I have had a positive impact on a number of students and that they think well of me, despite my flaws and shortcomings. I’m

I’m feeling pensive because I wonder about my own motivations and about the meaning of this course. Why did I create it? Why was I so enthusiastic about creating it? Am I simply trying to cast myself in the light of a ground-breaking maverick who is doing heroic and misunderstood work? Why was it so hard to get departmental approval for the course? Why were my colleagues so resistant to it? Is it truly worthwhile? Or am I deluding myself? Where my colleagues right and am I wrong about the value of the course?

Given the reactions of students in interviews and in spontaneous comments — much of which is carefully reasoned, argument-rich, highly articulate and insightful discourse — and given their enthusiasm for this class and the ways in which they make connections to other courses, other conceptual domains, and the wider world, it seems to me that the course that I designed and taught is meaningful to most of the students who took the course and had a positive impact on their experience as learners. In short, I do not believe that this whole enterprise is a waste of time. Still… I wonder. Am I really the right person to do this kind of interdisciplinary course creation? (I believe that the proper answer is “yes,” mostly because I find real intellectual satisfaction in making connections and/or finding correspondences and/or discerning meaningful interrelations among disparate fields of study. What is more,  I love learning; I am a very good model for lifelong learning; I love thinking and seeking to understand “the big picture”; I love research and reading. So… yeah.)

Finally, I’m fatigued because I hardly slept last night.  (I finished the third major iteration of an article for the NECTFL Review around 2:00 a.m. before crashing, then woke and rose again at 6:00.) I am fatigued because I’ve been going full blast intellectually and physically.

Now, enough with focusing on me and my feelings. Let’s take a look at the course itself. Here is a link to the MCC 150 Learning Across Cultures syllabus. I’ll offer comments on the course in a subsequent blog. I’d be interested in comments on the course as evoked in the syllabus. I think it has significance and significant promise. But I need to improve my execution as a facilitator of learning in this course. More later, I promise.

 

 

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